Julian Choi is the owner and co-founder of Minamoto Foods & Genji Sake. He has a certain calm to him, a wisdom that seems to transcend the chaos of the world. “We started Minamoto in the early 2000’s working out of the back my friend’s mom’s Korean store near the Austin airport,” explained Choi. “There were a few sushi restaurants in Austin, but no local fish distributors to really take care of them. We saw the food industry explode in Austin and were lucky to ride the wave.”
A few years later, Minamoto incorporated a premium Sake Distribution Company, Genji, as part of their wholesale distribution. “Sake sort of fell in our lap from the clientele we had. Because of our list of restaurants, we were getting attention of Japanese breweries. We were fish people to start, but once we were given the opportunity for Sake, we wanted to make sure we were all educated on the matter so we could educate the customer. We did not want to half ass it,” Choi explained.
Minamoto/Genji Sake concentrated their first few years doing events, bringing as many breweries as possible to create a buzz, an excitement around Sake. Just before the COVID pandemic forced hundreds of restaurants to shut down, Minamoto and Genji were fortunate enough to sign a deal with Spec’s for Sake. “They told us to bring as much Sake as we were willing to deliver and they would try to sell it. It is a blessing the way the timing worked out.”
When the city closed in March, Minamoto had about 3,000 lbs of fish with no home. “We froze what we could and posted on Instagram that we would be sending fish to the guys who were still open to feed their staff for family meals. Moving forward, we didn’t think it would be as much of a necessity as planned. We opened it up to Instagram and quickly realized how many people were in need of food,” explained Choi.
“We received 500-600 sign ups in the second week after which we started asking for donations from our farms. That kept us busy for the next month or so. But the last couple weeks of April, we started getting depleted and started trying to fundraise. We were just barely scraping by until Austin Shift Meal came around. The timing, again, could not have been more perfect and it has kept us going since.”
Minamoto has so graciously contributed a shift meal consistently every week since the first week of the program back in April. For Minamoto and Genji Sake, they hope to continue in their distribution of the highest quality fresh fish and sake to restaurants and liquor stores throughout Austin while providing for the community during this time of crisis and uncertainty.